Ballot measure forum proves to be intense

'Why all the anger?' John Surrett asked rhetorically during his presentation at last week's forum on two local Nov. 6 ballot measures.

Surrett was referring to what he said is voter frustration with the city's July 2006 purchase of the Safeco Building for use as a community center.

He credited some of the anger to 'misplaced priorities' among city officials who are in favor of buying the building at a time when the city has more pressing capital projects to pay for, such as the $100 million sewer interceptor project.

At the Oct. 3 Fusion 2007 dinner, organized by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce and held at the Oswego Lake Country Club, there was frustration on both sides of the debate.

Surrett and his group, Ask Lake Oswegans, endorse the Nov. 6 ballot measure 3-269, which would amend the city charter and require a public vote on most city purchases of property more than $2 million.

He and Ask Lake Oswegans' member Mary Olson faced-off against Our City, Our Future co-chairs Debbie Craig and Jonathan Puskas. Craig told the Fusion dinner group that the city should keep the Safeco Building and people should oppose measure 3-269.

'This is really serious,' Craig said, referring to the charter amendment proposal. 'This is permanent.'

A second, related measure will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Measure 3-273 asks Lake Oswego residents if they are willing to pay for the $20 million Safeco Building, which the city has renamed the West End Building. The tax cost would be $105 annually, per $300,000 assessed value.

Measure 3-269, if passed, would force a vote in March 2008 on whether to keep or sell the Safeco Building.

Surrett said 3-269 will rebuild trust in city government, prioritize city spending and 'restore accountability.'

Surrett said the charter amendment would have exceptions: Without voter approval, the city could buy property more than $2 million if the property is used for health or safety purposes, such as a fire or police station. He also said it would also allow purchases without voter approval of land that is within an urban renewal plan. But that plan would have to be approved by voters. Otherwise, all property purchases more than $2 million would need voter approval. (Each year, the $2 million figure would be adjusted for inflation.)

Craig countered that the measure is 'fatally flawed.' She said it would create a 'stagnation' for the city, which would have to ask voters to approve or deny large property purchases. 'This would create a bureaucratic nightmare,' she said.

In addition, Craig said the $2 million threshold is 'way too low.'

'Two million is a number from our far-distant past,' she said, adding that land prices have gone up significantly in recent years and she expects that trend to continue. 'Real estate is galloping ahead at an appreciation of 12 percent,' she said.

Lastly, she said the measure takes decision-making power from elected officials.

'This is about letting our officials govern effectively,' said Puskas.

Surrett countered that his Ask Lake Oswegans group had 140 volunteers who collected 5,000 signatures in six weeks last spring, to put the measure on the November ballot.

If elected officials can't be trusted to be financially responsible, Surrett said voters should be allowed to 'weigh-in' on large land purchases.

'The problem we've had is governance in this town,' said Surrett. 'Our group has resorted to the initiative process. Thank God it's there to serve us.'

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